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Career Change for Veterans: How to Navigate the Military Transition to Civilian Life

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Career Hub
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Pivoting Careers
Published
Nov 7, 2022
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Updated
Nov 17, 2022

Career Change for Veterans: How to Navigate the Military Transition to Civilian Life

Melissa Ripp

Transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce can be daunting. This guide will help you through each step of the job search.

The military-to-civilian transition is tough. At least, that’s what we discovered in our research and conversations with several veterans who were either in the process of transitioning to civilian life—or who have transitioned and still remember their own journeys from active duty.

Why create a playbook to help veterans transition to the civilian workforce?

We wanted to create a one-stop job search resource for veterans approaching a transition to the civilian workforce post-military with the hopes of serving as an anchor in uncharted waters. We plan to keep this guide updated with advice from service members who are currently transitioning to civilian jobs, those who’ve already made the transition, and those who help veterans navigate the challenges of successfully entering civilian life. 

At Teal, feedback is always appreciated and welcomed. If you have thoughts or recommendations about additional resources we should highlight, or if you’d like to share your personal story or advice, give us a shout via email or social media. We want to make this guide as comprehensive and complete as possible and have it evolve over time.

We thank you for your service to this country. While we can’t pretend to know all of the emotions you have about transitioning from active duty, we know the transition from military to civilian life can be daunting. We hope this guide makes a specific aspect of that—the job search—that much easier. We’re rooting for you through every step of the process. 

Let’s get started.

What does the military to civilian transition look like for service members?

There are many reasons veterans decide to leave the military. In a recent ArmyTimes survey of 38,000 troops, over half of those surveyed who planned to leave said they were doing so because of the effects of their deployments on family and personal relationships. Just over 47% cited the impacts of military life on the family plans for having children, and nearly 44% said they were choosing to leave because of the degree of stability or predictability military life had. 

Those reasons don't make the civilian employment transition any easier. Leadership coach and former U.S. Army Commander Jason Roncoroni says why:

Connection. That is the reason why leaving the military is so hard. It all stems from our biological and psychological need for belonging. The military gives us a sense of purpose, but it also gives us the comfort and security of shared empathy that comes from connection. Maybe the anxiety and the sense of urgency to find a new job has more to do with our emotional need for a sense of belonging than it does for a paycheck. The civil-military gap is so wide that returning to the civilian world is like traveling to a foreign country. People don’t speak the same language. The traditions and social structure are different. We need assurance that we belong somewhere once we don’t belong to the military anymore.

Independent of veterans themselves, there’s also a fragmented approach when it comes to the transition services offered. Three government agencies play a role in military-to-civilian transitions—the Department of Defense (DoD), the Veterans Administration, and the Department of Labor—which adds complexity to an already challenging situation for service members. And, while service members are trained for months on the front end of their careers, the military may only allocate a few days to a week for training a veteran to become a civilian again. 

When it comes to the job search, we want to do what we can to support in the transition.

Before we start: Set up your LinkedIn profile

Do you already have a LinkedIn account? If not, now's a great time to create one. With more than 875 million members, LinkedIn is a tool that will be an incredible help to you throughout your job search—so you’ll want to make sure that you’re setting yours up to work for you. Here are the specific sections you’ll want to pay special attention to:

Profile Photo

A professional headshot is always a good bet for a LinkedIn profile photo—as you begin applying and interviewing for jobs, or start interacting with recruiters, your picture helps put a face to your name, and research shows that just having a picture makes your profile 14 times more likely to be viewed by others. If you don’t have a professional headshot, consider having a family member, partner, or friend take a few photos of you against a simple, solid background. Make sure to post a high-resolution image that's clear (not blurry) and avoid hats or sunglasses.

Banner Image

The banner image is the large image at the very top of your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn profiles with banner images are 11x more likely to be viewed than those without. Banners can be changed easily into an image or graphic that can be personalized. If you’re looking for ideas on how to change yours, this short video can help!

Many service members will use a banner image that nods to their time spent in military service. Feel free to do so, or to post an image that ties into interests and professional goals in your civilian life. There are no hard and fast rules.

LinkedIn URL

Creating a custom LinkedIn URL (www.linkedin.com/yourname) makes it easier for recruiters, hiring managers, and others to find you on LinkedIn. Teal’s LinkedIn Review tool makes it easy to change your URL, or you can also change it directly on LinkedIn

Here’s a video from Teal’s CEO David Fano that walks you through everything you need to know about your LinkedIn URL:

LinkedIn Headline

Under your profile picture, LinkedIn gives you 220 characters for a headline—and this is easily the most valuable real estate you have. Why? Well, at its core, LinkedIn is a search engine, similar to Google. When someone searches for you there, your headline, name, and profile photo are the first pieces of information that can be seen. 

The best way to start crafting your headline is to think about it as a formula. The general rule of thumb is to concentrate equally on keywords (remember: search engine!) and the value you’d bring to a role or company.

Here’s a sample formula to help you get started:

Title or role you are targeting | Relevant Skill 1 | Relevant Skill 2 | Relevant Skill 3 | Mini-pitch that illustrates what your military skills would bring to a company (Example: “I help X do Y”)

Here’s a great example from former U.S. Marine and current program leader Matt Disher. It offers an at-a-glance into Matt’s career—his role, his skills, and the fact that he’s a veteran:

(LinkedIn headline example of former U.S. Marine, Matt Disher)
LinkedIn headline example of former U.S. Marine Matt Disher

Now, you might be thinking: what if I’m not quite sure what I should put in my headline yet? Don’t worry—we’ll tackle that part in the sections ahead. For now, think of your headline as a way to simply answer the question, “Why am I on LinkedIn, and what do I want people to know?” 

Saying what your military role was and the opportunities you might consider (“U.S. Army veteran and military logistician seeking roles in supply chain management”) might be a good way to get started until you have a chance to dig deeper and consider all your options. 

“About” Section

This next section gives you a bit more real estate to talk about you as a person. Not only does it function as a bio of sorts, but it’s also a great way for you to tell your story—why you decided to go into the military, your transition from active duty, and what you’re looking for in your next chapter.

While it’s true that LinkedIn is a professional networking site, it’s worth repeating that we’re there to seek connection—and humans connect best with other humans. For that reason, don’t be afraid to write about yourself and your experiences in your own voice. Share your passions, motivations, and goals—and why you’re excited to take the next steps in your career and what, specifically, you’re looking for.

If you’re stuck, here are a few details to consider including:

  • Your military experience at a high level, and how it applies to the types of roles you’re targeting
  • The relevant accomplishments or achievements you’re especially proud of, whether before or during your time as a service member
  • The skills you developed by serving in the military, and how you plan to use them in your next role. Do you have specific technical skills or knowledge? Do you speak multiple languages? Did you hold a leadership position? Make sure to call these out and highlight them as part of your story.
  • What did you learn throughout your military experience, and what’s inspiring you to use your talents in a different way?
  • Close the section with some personal details. We realize this might feel a bit strange to do, but we are more than just our jobs, and small details—like what you like to do in your spare time or if you have a hobby—will help to better illustrate the person behind the profile and bring your story to life. 

If you’re struggling with what to say in your About section and need some time to think and brainstorm, check out our Professional Summary Workbook. Make a copy to get started. 

“Experience” Section

This is the part of your LinkedIn profile that functions most like a resume (which we’ll cover later on in the guide). Here, you’ll want to list out your military experience and include bullet points that explain the main responsibilities you had as a service member. A few suggestions as you’re working through this section:

  • Instead of focusing on what your role was, focus on the results you accomplished. For example, you might have indeed commanded a company on a deployment to Afghanistan, but if you dig deeper, you’ll find that you also successfully transported a company of 200 soldiers to and from Afghanistan with millions of dollars worth of equipment and supplies.
  • Spell out acronyms. Acronyms abound in every corner of the Armed Forces, but only a handful of recruiters and hiring managers on LinkedIn will know what those acronyms mean. Use their proper names and explain them if necessary.
  • Use strong action words when explaining your responsibilities and achievements
  • Include keywords—specific skills, certifications, and technical know-how—that make it easy for recruiters to come across your profile as they search (more on that later in this guide)
  • Think about your military skills as transferrable skills and weave those in when you can (we talk more about transferrable skills below, so stay tuned!)

After you’ve created your profile, you might want a second set of eyes on it to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward. Teal’s free LinkedIn Review tool gives you personalized recommendations for how to optimize and improve your profile. 

What’s with the green banner?

As you’re getting more familiar with LinkedIn, you might notice that some people on LinkedIn have green “Open to Work” banners around their profile photos. Should you do the same? It all depends on your comfort level and where you are in your transition process. 

  • If you’re fully transitioned out of the military and actively searching for a job, we’d suggest using the banner. One reason is that recruiters have the option to filter candidates by who is open to work and using the banner. This alerts them that the person they’re looking at is able to start a job faster, and it helps them fill their roles faster as a result.
  • If you’re still active in the military, or you’ve submitted your separation papers and they haven’t been approved yet, or they’ve been approved but you have several months to go, you can change your “Open to Work” setting on LinkedIn to be open to recruiters only. This removes the green banner from your profile, but you’ll still show up in a recruiter’s search results. In this situation, you can begin talking to recruiters and explain your situation and availability. 
  • You can say that you’re specifically looking for opportunities in your About section.
  • We typically don’t suggest that you say you’re “looking for opportunities” or “open to work” in your LinkedIn headline as it takes up your precious 220 characters that you could use to highlight skills or keywords. If you use the “Open to Work” settings above, recruiters and hiring managers will automatically know you’re looking for a new role.

LinkedIn resources for veterans

Now that you’ve created your profile, it’s time to familiarize yourself with LinkedIn and all it can offer — and there’s no shortage of veteran-focused groups, organizations, and thought leaders to connect with. Here are just a few to check out: 

LinkedIn groups:

Veteran organizations and services on LinkedIn:

Veteran-focused thought leaders and influencers

Also, a very cool freebie from LinkedIn that we want to make sure we let you know about before we move on from our LinkedIn resources: LinkedIn offers U.S. veterans a free one-year Premium Career Subscription, including access to LinkedIn Learning, which is full of training videos, classes, and certifications. Make sure you take advantage of this—it’s an incredible value. 

Part 1: You're transitioning from the military to civilian life. Now what? 

You’ve made up your mind: you’re leaving the military. You’ve served your country, you’ve fulfilled your service commitment, and your separation paperwork has been approved. Maybe you have a few more months of service, or perhaps you’re counting down the days—but whatever the case may be, returning to civilian life can be a big step. 

That return is about so much more than just the job search. It’s about reconnecting with family and friends, feeling comfortable in your new community and building connections, creating a different structure for yourself other than the one the military provides, establishing services like doctors and dentists, and simply adjusting to a different pace of life.

Even for the most confident and strong-willed person, this transition from military to civilian life isn't without its challenges. Lindsey Thomas, Owner of Thread Coaching and Consulting, LLC and a former U.S. Navy officer, stresses the importance of having a strong support network around you during this time. “It can be a really lonely place. We can be really ego-driven and prideful, but I encourage people not to go at this alone. There are so many people who want to help you navigate this.”

Though this time may feel daunting, it’s also exciting, and an opportunity to reflect on what you want the next part of your career—and life as a whole—to look like. 

Here are some of our recommendations for doing just that—complete with free workbooks and tools we’ve put together to make the military-to-civilian shift even easier (from a job-search perspective, at least!): 

First, soul-search and reflect to determine what you really want

Determine your motivation and personal values: The most satisfying professional experiences are often the ones that align with our values and why we “get out of bed” every morning. Our values workbook can help you determine what’s important to you as you begin your civilian job search—you can use this tool to help you understand your needs, wants, and how you see your values potentially being expressed in your new career. Not sure how to identify or articulate your values? We recommend checking out our free, on-demand video class that explains our career values framework in more detail and helps you determine what you want more of—and less of—as you go through this discovery process.

Reflect on the skills you have—and how they translate: Use our skills workbook to put pen to paper and reflect on the skills you’ve acquired through your military career and how they might translate to your next step. Next, identify potential skills—those abilities you haven’t acquired yet, but want to develop or learn. If you get stuck here, our free, on-demand video class can help you better understand your natural strengths and acquired skills. 

Brainstorm your interests: When you find a role that aligns with your skills and interests, you’ll find that you might feel more invested in your job from day to day. Our interests workbook can help you identify what you enjoy learning about, things you might be interested in outside of work, and projects you may have enjoyed working on in the past. And, our free, on-demand video class can take you through how to align those interests with your skills to easily brainstorm potential career opportunities. 

Develop your career pivot strategy: The thought of departing the military, while exciting in some ways, can feel incredibly overwhelming if it’s the only career you’ve ever known. It’s important to be patient with yourself during this time, and not feel pressure to take on all of this soul-searching at once. It also helps to have a “career pivot strategy”: a series of foundational steps to ensure you’re feeling empowered as you pave a new way forward in your civilian life. A military transition can take time—everyone's journey is personal and unique, and it's ok if it's not an instantaneous transition into a clear path. As we like to say, we don't change careers; we build careers. Many careers are non-linear—full of unexpected turns.

Teal CEO Dave Fano recently created a series of videos to support those making a drastic career change. Not only does it include the skills, interests, and motivation recommendations we discuss above, but it also gives insight into how to identify your work style (important as you’re heading into civilian employment), explore your career options, and more. 

Next, brainstorm and research possible career options

Now that you’ve spent some time determining what you’re looking for as you make the military transition to civilian life, let’s dig into the next step: researching the employment options that will match up with the values, skills, and interests that have come to the surface. 

At this stage, you might not be sure what kind of roles you want to apply for quite yet. And, you might find yourself getting impatient: Shouldn’t I be doing something? 

That’s okay. In fact, that feeling is expected! However, you are taking the time for a very important part of the process. And we have a few additional resources and considerations that might help with those challenges:

Taking time to establish career goals: Setting goals for yourself—especially as you enter into a new phase of your professional life—can be a useful aspect of progression and growth as you go through your personal and work life. Our free workbook can guide you through what a goal-setting process looks like, so you can create a clear idea of what you’re working towards. Transitioning isn't an item on a to-do list that can be checked off in one tick; it takes time.

Understanding your work style: In addition to knowing your skills and interests, you’ll want to figure out your work style—the collection of behaviors and attitudes that you apply to the tasks and relationships that are a part of your everyday work. Are you competitive or cooperative? Adventurous or cautious? You can tell a lot about a person by the way they approach their work, including how they solve problems and lead initiatives. 

Being aware of your work style can also help when it comes to figuring out the roles in which you might excel. And, even if you think you know these traits about yourself, having an assessment like this can come in handy in the interview process when you’re getting questions about strengths and weaknesses. You can access your Teal Work Styles assessment here. 

Defining “career passion”: Just as we explored reasons for leaving the military, each of you who joined had an initial reason for doing so, whether that was to serve your country, to see the world, to be part of something bigger than yourself, or perhaps honor a family tradition. In the transition to a civilian career, those might still be the things that guide you—and that’s wonderful. This sense of duty might never go away (and it certainly doesn’t need to, either). 

However, it’s also good to remember that passion in your work can show up in different ways. It can change based on where you are in your life, the health of your family or loved ones, or what you’re motivated by: emotions like relief, comfort, safety, or even pleasure. As you move through your life each day, take stock of the times when you’ve felt calm, relaxed, happy, excited, or safe. Those might be cues that lead you to your passion. 

Researching career options: Here’s where we put pen to paper. One of the best ways to understand the options out there is through a good old-fashioned brainstorm. Having these options documented is a huge help, as you’ll spend less time researching companies and industries that aren’t aligned with your interests or skills. 

Here’s one way to get started:

Using job boards for research: As you start researching roles on job boards—like the ones you see on Recruit Military, Hire Veterans, LinkedIn, and Indeed—keep in mind they can be used for so much more than just looking for jobs. Often, these platforms use the job description as part of the algorithm for creating search results, so try typing in your skills and interests into the search bar of the job board and see what comes up. You might be surprised at all of the job titles that require the skills and interests you have—titles that you may have never considered. 

Teal’s CEO Dave Fano talks more about how this works in this TikTok video:

@teal_hq Did you know you can use LinkedIn for career research? If you’re not sure what kinds of roles you want to apply for or what career you want to pivot into, try this tip from @davefromteal. More LinkedIn hacks to supercharge your job search: @teal_hq #careertok #careertiktok #careeradvice #linkedin #linkedintips ♬ Sunroof - Nicky Youre & dazy

When you start to get an idea of the jobs that are out there, you can use this link to take it a step further: take a look at how those roles translate to available positions and what the average salaries are for those roles. Effective November 1, 2022, companies hiring in New York City were required to start to post salary ranges in the job description, joining states like Colorado, Connecticut, and Maryland.

Having informational interviews: Sometimes, the best way to truly understand if a role or type of career is right for you is to ask someone who has experience. Enter: the informational interview.

An informational interview is exactly what it sounds like: a meeting with someone to exchange information and ask questions. The only goal is networking and learning. These kinds of interviews might seem daunting at first because they require you to reach out to people you don’t know—but we’ve made it easier to conduct them with a series of guides and templates to support you through every part of the process.

If you’re wondering how to find people who are willing to talk with you, test out a LinkedIn post. Crafting a quick post to let your network know you’re looking to have some conversations might give you plenty of leads to go on. And, as you have these conversations, be sure to add their information to your Teal Contacts Tracker

One piece of advice as you’re doing this work: depending on your years of service in the military, this might be a mindset shift, but it’s good to remember that the career you’re looking for right now may not be the career you have 5-10 years from now. Many of us have been wired to think about career plans and goals in the long term, but a long career trajectory doesn’t always fit in today’s corporate world.

All of this is to say: you might find yourself under some self-created pressure to find that “one thing” you’re going to do for the rest of your life. Focus on long-term objectives instead, and keep the more detailed plans for the next year or two. That way, you can evaluate and shift as needed—and you’ll be ready when and if your career takes you in a completely different (and equally amazing!) direction. 

Here are a few veteran-specific articles to get you started on your journey:

Now, analyze your transferable skills

The many skills you’ve learned and honed throughout your military career—the ones that you might even take for granted because they’re such a part of your day-to-day? They’re highly applicable—and marketable— to other careers and roles as well. These are called transferable skills, and they’re the talents and abilities we learn through past work experiences, our schooling and professional development, and our volunteer experiences and hobbies. 

As you’re thinking about transferable skills, it’s also important to consider the positive outcomes of your military service that you bring to an employer or a role. These could also be portrayed as skills, and can also be good to keep in mind for the other parts of the job search process, like your cover letter or answers to potential job interview questions:

Finally, focus on the career pivot

As we’re giving this advice, we’re very aware that pivoting from the military to a civilian career isn’t quite the same as a civilian deciding to shift from one corporate job to another—but there are a few similarities. 

The first similarity is that any career pivot will require some action to get you a solid foundation for what you want to do. In a recent resume review, our CEO Dave Fano had some great resume advice for pivoters around showcasing consulting and project work instead of actual job experience and showcasing hard skills.

In another recent resume review, he also gives feedback on a resume for a veteran who is pivoting to a civilian role.

If you’re looking for actions to take to get you closer to the experience you need, we have a few suggestions:

  • Take a class, boot camp, or certification to get the training and foundational skills for what it is you want to do next (e.g. sales, customer success, data analysis, app development, program management, etc.).
  • Start a side project that lets you hone those skills—and add to your portfolio. If you want to go into social media, start a TikTok account and learn and test what type of post generates audience engagement. Interested in being a web developer? Build your own website and document what you learn along the way.
  • Volunteer. This is a great way to make a difference for a cause you’re passionate about and gain experience simultaneously—experience you can leverage on your resume. 

The second similarity? The pivot is easier when you surround yourself with people who are taking—or are in the process of taking—the exact same step you are. The good news is that you’re not alone in the path you’re on, and there are plenty of people who are taking the time to document and talk about their experiences through social media and blogs. Here are just a few of the accounts we’ve uncovered (in addition to this list of 70 veteran blogs and websites to follow!): 

Blogs & Websites:

  • From the Green Notebook: Founder and Director Joe Byerly created this website to provide military professionals and veterans a platform to help each other by sharing lessons learned—lessons that come in the form of the green, government-issued notebooks that can be found in any military organization. 
  • Task & Purpose: This online magazine was founded to inform, engage, entertain, and stand up for active military duty members, veterans, and their families. In its eight years, it’s quickly become one of the most trusted news and investigative journalism sources for the military, and it also shares plenty of perspectives from veterans. 
  • Military Connection: A military veteran blog that contains information for veterans, families, and military supporters, this publication features a mix of military news with historical stories, opinion articles, and military bloggers who share their experiences and stories. 
  • RallyPoint: The social network by, for, and about service members and veterans, Rally Point offers peer counseling, job placement, mentorship, and a community of over a million veterans and civilian supporters. 
  • Together We Served: With the motto of “Connecting Veterans Since 2003,” this is the largest U.S. military veteran directory, with over 2.1 million veteran members. The site offers a way to reconnect with those you served with, share stories with other veterans, and offer support in this post military chapter. 

Social Media: 

  • Veteran With A Sign: Part fun and part focused on pressing veteran issues, this Instagram account is a riff off the popular Dude with a Sign account and a great way to keep things in perspective when the job search gets challenging. 
  • Veterans United Home Loans: If you’re working through finding a place to call home while you’re starting on a career path, the Veterans United TikTok might be a worthwhile follow. 
  • Out of Regs: Looking for a bit of levity in your day? The Out of Regs TikTok is guaranteed to make you laugh—and depending on which branch of the Armed Forces you served, the content will be pretty relatable, too. 
  • Department of Veteran Affairs: From uplifting Veteran of the Day content to insight into VA benefits, this is an account worth the follow on Instagram. In addition, the Student Veterans of America Instagram is similarly focused on resources and information for younger veterans. 

Part 2: The search process

You’ve done the hard work to think critically about your skills, interests, and experience—and how they can be applied from your military service to a civilian career. Maybe you’ve done some informational interviews, done a bunch of research, and narrowed down the kinds of roles—and the types of industries, companies, and civilian employment—you’re interested in. These are all important steps before getting into the nitty-gritty of the actual job search. Now, it’s time to make a job search plan.

Planning your job search

Why is a plan so important? Because—and you may have heard this before—failure to plan is planning to fail. There are so many different ways your job search could go, and creating a plan will help you narrow down your opportunities and allocate time to work through the process. The result is a less stressful and more manageable job search process, which is always good. 

This is where all the research you’ve done in Part 1 of this guide comes in handy. Using our free Job Search Planner Tool, list the roles and industries you’re interested in pursuing and the companies you’re interested in working for. 

Next, set a timeline for yourself—how many hours would you like to spend a week looking for a new role? If you utilize the Job Search planner, it’ll calculate how many people to work with and how many jobs to apply for—and will follow up with you per week to ensure you’re holding yourself accountable. 

As you’re going through the search process, we’ve put together a great list of recommended reading for online resources, the best veteran job sites, transition assistance program suggestions, and more:

Online resources for disabled veterans:

Organizing your job search

Planning your job search is one important piece of the puzzle; organizing it is the other. Especially as you start applying for multiple roles, there are way too many parts of the job search to keep everything in your head—and a spreadsheet is helpful, but often can’t help you account for where you are in the process with specific roles. 

Here’s how to use Teal’s Job Tracker to organize your job search as you transition: 


Saving roles you’re interested in and identifying themes

As you go through job boards and develop your list of interesting roles, notice any similarities that start to pop up. Do the roles all seem to have a specific industry in common, such as engineering, manufacturing, healthcare, or aerospace? How about the titles of the roles—are you seeing a lot of “Logistics Manager” or “Supply Chain Manager?” 

Seeing all these roles in one place can help you hone in further and start concentrating on a specific industry or type of role. 

Learning to read job descriptions

A job description (we’ll refer to them as JDs from here on out) is a company’s “request for proposal.” In the description, a company will clearly state what the person hired will be required to do in the role, the duties and responsibilities the job entails, and what skills are required to perform a specific function. Your job as the person answering that proposal with your resume and cover letter is to explain why you’re as close of a match as possible to the person they’re seeking. 

Depending on the role, the industry, and the company, a JD can take a bit of decoding. It’s helpful to think about a JD in four separate parts, which, as Teal CEO Dave Fano says, give the instructions on how to apply for a particular job:

The requirements:

Here, companies are telling you exactly what they’re looking for in terms of hard skills and minimum qualifications. Organizations will be as clear and direct as possible here because they also don’t want to create extra work on their end by going through the resumes of people who may not be qualified. 

A tip when going through these: turn each of the requirements bullet points into a question you ask yourself. “Do I have experience with X?” For example, let’s take our Logistics Manager example above. Let’s say you’re perusing a job description for a Logistics Manager with an automotive company. If one of the requirements is “thorough knowledge of OEM automotive, manufacturing, or related industries,” ask yourself, “Do I have a thorough knowledge of OEM automotive, manufacturing, or a related industry?” It might sound a little silly, but trust us—it can be a huge help in thinking through whether the requirements match your skill set. 

The “nice to haves”:

When you look at the requirements, you might see some bullet points that say things like, “SAP experience a plus,” or “solid understanding of logistics and inventory management software preferred.” These qualifications aren’t critical but would be a plus for a candidate to bring to the table. They’re “nice to haves.” 

We want to be clear and say that these “nice to haves” shouldn’t deter you from applying if you meet the other requirements and the job interests you. We recommend applying to roles where you feel you match 70-80% of the job requirements. Candidates with the optimal level of skills, experience, and education might be prioritized, but it doesn’t mean they automatically get the roles. 

Role description and responsibilities:

In looking at a job description, pay special attention to how the roles and responsibilities are listed—because they’re typically listed in order of how much you’ll be doing in the day-to-day role. The bullet points at the top are most likely the tasks you’ll be charged with carrying out most often. 

Company information:

Now, it’s time to zoom out and concentrate on the company itself. Make sure you’re doing your homework on them by exploring how long they’ve been in business (are they an established company, or a start-up?), how many people work there, and if you’re able to look up the hiring manager on LinkedIn to find out more about them. 

Here are a few great resources that can help you break down job description language even further. These pieces are all written specifically for human resource departments and recruiters, but they’ll give you the inside scoop on how most JDs are typically put together: 

Identifying skill gaps

We’ve touched on this a bit previously in this guide, but depending on the type of role you’re interested in, there might be a need to find professional development opportunities that help you close the skills gap between where you are currently and what your ideal role might require.

For instance, if we continue with our Logistics Manager example, you might start to notice as you read through job descriptions that the same requirements come up over and over—a proficiency in ISO quality systems fundamentals or competency in lean manufacturing principles. Or, there’s a company communications system you see they use that you’ve never heard of before. 

If this feels overwhelming, don’t worry—it’s normal for career transitions to also include some upskilling and training. And, with so many free and paid resources out there—online courses, boot camps, workshops, and free education and content on YouTube—it’s never been easier to become a pro at whichever system or platform a particular company or industry depends on. 

The added benefit to upskilling is that you’re working toward learning something new. No matter how confident you feel in your job search, there might be days when you feel a bit of impostor syndrome—that feeling that happens to all of us where you feel like you’re not very confident or capable. Learning something new—and being able to apply that to your job search in a very tangible way—is a great way to ward those feelings off. 

So let’s start identifying what you need to learn—and then we’ll talk more about how to make that happen. There are two ways we’d suggest:

  • One is to use Teal’s Job Tracker to compare job descriptions. You can see at-a-glance the skills that keep coming up over the roles you’ve saved and make a short list of which ones to tackle. 
  • Another way is more of a traditional one—a personal SWOT analysis. With this path, you can determine your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats—and develop a plan for what you’ll focus on. 
Teal's Job Tracker

Closing the skills gap

You’ve narrowed down what you need to learn—but there are so many ways to learn. To make it a little easier, we’ve created a comprehensive list of paid and free courses, platforms, and education resources that provide a great starting point:

General and technology-focused resources and programs:

*These are affiliate links, which means Teal may earn a commission for purchases made through this link. We only recommend products, resources, and training programs we believe in and trust, and we will disclose if any of our content is sponsored. 

If there are other classes, courses, or tools you’d add to this list, send us a note and let us know—we’d love to include them. 

What does this mean? Deciphering unknown terminology in civilian jobs

Civilian workplaces LOVE their acronyms—and no doubt there will be a time or two you’ll stumble across something you’ve never heard of before. (If it helps, sometimes civilians aren’t even sure what some of these acronyms mean!) In the same way that you immediately know "DoD" stands for "Department of Defense," marketers may know "ROI" means "return on investment" and engineers may know "R" means "Ruby."

Understanding and being able to use this terminology is key—it will help you with your job search, and it will help you be more knowledgeable in interviews. Below, we’ve compiled a list of the most common corporate acronyms so you can start to familiarize yourself—and if you’d like to dive in even further, we’ve included a few additional resources below:

Unconventional ways to search for job roles

LinkedIn is a great resource—and popular job boards can be a great place to get started with your search, but there are so many other resources to look into, especially for veterans looking to transition into civilian roles. 

To start, here’s a list of over 40 job boards that work with Teal’s Chrome extension that you may want to consider. No matter which way you use to start your job search, Teal CEO Dave Fano says there are three ways that you can approach finding opportunities: a people approach, a company approach, and a job approach. The embedded YouTube class below talks about how to work through all three:

Here are just a few of the veteran-specific job boards out there, designed specifically to support service members in their transition from military life: 

Tap into your network 

You’ve probably heard the adage, “it’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” And this is true when it comes to the civilian job market. Networking and referrals—when a candidate is referred to a job opening via an existing employee in a company or someone in that person’s network—is by far the most effective way to land a job. 

If this is your first foray into the civilian workforce, you might be wondering, “who’s in my network, and how do I leverage it?” The truth is, you have more people in your corner willing to be a resource than you often think. And, there’s also a misconception about networking—that you should only consider reaching out to people you know. As our CEO Dave Fano puts it, it’s actually the “loose ties” and the “weak ties” of your network that get the most results: Your friends, family, and fellow veterans may not be hiring at their company, but may know someone who is.

Here’s a handy list of people to reach out to as you start your job search: 

  • Close and extended family 
  • Friends and acquaintances
  • Former service members who have already transitioned to the civilian workforce
  • Former classmates and college alumni
  • LinkedIn connections
  • People you have reached out to for informational interviews
  • Former colleagues from roles you may have held prior to military service

Where to find them:

  • Your email
  • Your phone
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Your college's alumni or career services network
  • Networking communities and member-only meet-ups

As simple as it sounds, thanking your network is the best way to ensure those relationships keep paying dividends. Warren Howard, an operations leader and United States Marine Corps veteran, says, “Thank you notes are essential for anyone that gives you time—it’s so much more beneficial to build a real network than to try and interact with strangers.”

Joining digital communities and bookmarking job boards

In addition to the LinkedIn groups we mentioned earlier in this guide, a reminder that many of the resources we’ve listed elsewhere have strong digital community components where you can ask questions of other members, get advice about various aspects of your transition to civilian life, and gain mentorship about employment post-military (RallyPoint is a great example!).

Part 3: Resume tips for service members

Finally, we’ve come to the document that goes hand-in-hand with the civilian job search: the resume. 

There’s plenty of advice floating around about what you should and shouldn’t include on your resume, and if you haven’t created a resume for a civilian job before, understanding what information to include to show a recruiter or hiring manager who you are and what you can do can be confusing. 

As someone who’s reviewed thousands of resumes, our CEO Dave’s rule of thumb is to include these major sections at a minimum:

  • Contact information
  • Target title
  • Professional summary
  • Work experience
  • Education (school, college, etc.)
  • Certifications
  • Skills

Here’s a video from Dave that explains a bit more: 

Should you tailor your resume for every job?

Remember earlier in this guide, when we said a job description is like a request for proposal? Well, to keep up with the metaphor, your resume is the sales pitch. It’s your response to that specific job. So: to tailor, or not to tailor?

Our answer at Teal will always be a resounding yes—with a few exceptions, which we'll explain below. Tailoring your resume for each job you’re interested in is the best way to increase the odds you’ll get called for an interview, which is the first goal. 

Now, when we say “tailor,” we’re not saying “fully rewrite your resume for every position you apply for.” Instead, we’re suggesting that you have a “primary” or “main” resume and focus on a few strategic modifications that you can make to best align your resume to the JD’s specific details. 

This video breaks down how you can use Teal’s Resume Builder to easily customize—much easier and less time-intensive than saving 20 versions of your resume:

One strategy we suggest as you’re tailoring your resume is looking at it through four aspects:

  • Skills: How is the company writing about hard and soft skills? Are they being written in the form of proper names (Excel, PowerPoint, SAP), or are they being written more generally (supply chain management, logistics software experience)? Tailor how you present the skills to match how the company is displaying its requirements.
  • Industry: Industry knowledge is domain knowledge—meaning if you’ve worked in logistics, other logistics companies would value that highly. If this kind of industry gap exists, that’s okay—just be sure to spell out exactly how your skills are transferable to the new role and company.
  • Product & Service: How does the company that’s hiring make money? How do they package what they sell? Do they sell to other businesses, or do they sell directly to people/consumers? Do they sell long-term contracts or monthly subscriptions? Understanding how they “go to market,” and tailoring your resume to echo that language if needed, will show you’re familiar with their product and target audience.
  • Stage: This refers to a company’s stage of growth. For example, technology companies can be established enterprises that have been around for 30+ years, or they can be venture-funded or in an early-growth stage. Which stage a company is in will directly affect its hiring needs, so being able to align your skills and experiences to where they are in their business is important. 

Wait…what the heck is an ATS?

Ah, yes—the ATS, or Applicant Tracking System. An ATS is software for employers and recruiters that allows them to easily track, organize, and communicate with candidates throughout the recruiting and hiring funnel.

The software aspect of an ATS is partly why there are so many misconceptions about them. One of the big myths of an applicant tracking system is assuming your resume didn’t make it to a human because “bots” rejected the resume or that the ATS itself rejected your resume. 

The truth is humans read resumes (and humans reject resumes!). The ATS is simply a digital filing cabinet—a way of organizing information and trying to understand the content so it can be easily searched. The most important part of your resume for ATS purposes is that your resume be “parsable” and the text can be extracted.

Here’s more about how to ensure your resume is optimized for the ATS:

Recommended reading and resources for resume writing help and examples:

Part 4: The application and interview process

Like every other part of the job search, there is a process for applying to jobs—and you want to make sure you optimize your process for the best results. After all, the resume might be your sales pitch, but you want to be mindful of the right way to get in that door and get that interview. 

We have an online class that covers all the parts of this process, including:

  • Teal’s top tips for getting a foot in the door
  • The best ways to get a referral 
  • Understanding the role of a recruiter, and understanding how they work when it comes to cold outreach, and 
  • The best way to prepare and apply for jobs online

Head here to catch the full video:

Understanding the interview process for a civilian role

As someone who’s served in the military, you’re most likely used to a very different interview process for a role or promotion than what you might see in a civilian role. It’s called a “process” for a reason—there are several steps or phases you need to go through before getting a job offer. Every company varies: some will only require two interviews, and some more sought-after roles and big companies might go through several rounds of interviews. Generally speaking, though, here’s the path you can expect:

  • Application Review: A recruiter or hiring manager gets your materials and takes a look at your resume and cover letter before deciding to move you forward into the next stage. 
  • Phone Screening/Initial Meeting: This is a quick conversation with a hiring manager or recruiter to meet you, confirm your qualifications, and get a gut feeling about whether you should get a full first interview.
  • First Interview: This is a longer conversation (usually 45 minutes to an hour) either in-person or via video chat where you spend an hour or so answering questions about your skills, experience, and qualifications. This first interview is usually done with the person you’d report to directly. 
  • Second Interview: Another longer conversation, where a small group (usually people you’d be working with closely if you got the job) will dig even deeper into whether or not you’d be a good fit culturally and what you’d add to the team.
  • Background or Reference Check: Not every company does this, but some employers may complete a background check or call your references to confirm that you’re the right fit. 
  • Job Offer: The end is in sight! You receive an offer from the company. Now, on to the negotiation process. 

Prepping for an interview

You’ve made it past the initial phone screen, and you have your first interview scheduled. But you’re wondering: what kind of questions will you get asked? 

The short answer: anything and everything. That’s a big reason why it’s always good to prepare for a wide range of interview questions—and we have several great interview resources that can help you out with almost every type:

  • Many veterans go into the technology sector, and so we asked hiring managers, recruiters, and leaders of some of our favorite tech companies to give us the one interview question they love to ask. These questions are a great reminder that interview questions can be as diverse as the companies asking them!
  • If (and when!) you get to your second interview, many companies will ask behavioral and situational interview questions. Here’s the difference:
  • Behavioral questions ask about what you’ve done. They’ll usually begin with “Tell me about a time when…” and they’ll require you to remember a specific situation or experience that happened and how you solved or remedied it. 
  • Situational questions ask about what you would do. They set up a hypothetical situation and require you to explain what you’d do or how you’d react. 
  • With remote work becoming more and more common, you might be interviewing for a remote position—and might be asked to conduct an interview on Zoom or another video platform. When you’re used to talking with people in person, a video interview can be a bit daunting, so we put together our best Zoom interview tips to make things easier. 

All of this—and more—are in our “Interview with Confidence” class: 

You can also check out this TikTok video for three free interview resources:

@teal_hq No gatekeeping here. If you’re prepping for a job interview, here are 3 free tools and resources we’d recommend to practice your answers. What others would you add to the list? #jobsearch #jobtips #jobinterview #jobhunting #careertiktok ♬ Love You So - The King Khan & BBQ Show

From the video:
Google Interview Warm-Up
LinkedIn interview prep

Other resources:
BrightHire’s Interview Intelligence Tool
Exponent’s Interview Prep Platform

A note about impostor syndrome

Earlier in this guide, we talked a little about impostor syndrome in the context of the job search. As we’ve talked with more job seekers, we’ve learned that impostor syndrome creeps in the most both before and during the interview process. If it starts to affect you, we have a few ways to combat it

Part 5: Negotiation & Compensation

Salary negotiations can be unnerving for those who have been in the civilian workforce all of their professional lives—but it can be one of the hardest things many veterans face as they leave active duty and start a civilian career. If you’ve been in the Armed Forces, you know why—while serving on active duty, your base pay is set by rank or time in service, and it’s a very transparent compensation system. 

Compensation is also a broad topic because it’s not just about your salary or cash compensation. There are other benefits—health insurance, paid time off, holiday pay, professional development stipends, 401K contributions, and more—that add up to your “total rewards.” This is another aspect of compensation that might be new to you: your military compensation may not have included any, or most, of these benefits.

If you want to take a deep dive into all things compensation, benefits, and negotiation, check out this “Understanding Compensation & Negotiation” mini-course:

Take a look at a few of our best practices when it comes to compensation:

  • Understand your “total rewards”: Your total rewards is a 360-degree view of all the benefits you could potentially negotiate for. We’ve put together a checklist that shows the various elements that could make up a total rewards package—not all of these are negotiable, but you don’t know if you don’t ask! (And, here’s another list of potential benefits that might be helpful, too.)
  • Research fair market value for the role: Some places—states like Colorado and Connecticut, and more recently, jurisdictions like New York City—require salaries to be listed in the job posting. But more often than not, most companies don’t list salary ranges publicly—a fact that leaves many job seekers frustrated and in the dark. To ensure you know your worth and that you’re being fairly compensated for a particular role, we’ve compiled a list of 30 of the best salary websites, including those at Glassdoor and Monster.com. (Bonus: when a hiring manager asks, “What are your salary requirements?” during an interview, you’ll be confident and prepared!)  Teal’s Compensation Tool also pulls salary ranges directly from job descriptions when listed, making sure the salary is always front and center. 
  • Be on the lookout for unfamiliar benefits: Benefits can look very different in the civilian world than they might have looked when you were in the military. Some of these—remote work, the concept of work-life balance, a 401(k)—might be perks that weren’t available to you before, while there might be big differences in others like healthcare, paid vacation time, and education benefits. Doing a comparison of military vs. civilian benefits can help you be more aware of what benefits and specific tradeoffs you feel comfortable with. 

Ready to start negotiating? We’ve got a few suggestions for that, too:

  • Know the market rate: It might be tempting—especially if the salary is much higher than the one you had in the military—to accept the first job offer you get without negotiating. Knowing the market rate for a particular role can help you determine whether it’s a good offer or whether a counteroffer should be part of your plans.
  • Know your points of leverage: Usually, your biggest points of leverage in an offer negotiation are your experience and your expertise. As you're transitioning into the civilian workforce, you may not have years of experience—but you can still leverage specific hard and soft skills you honed while serving in the military, as well as the market research you’ve done on the role’s compensation.
  • Know what you can negotiate: As we mentioned above, there’s more to compensation than simply salary or cash—and tools like our Compensation Checklist can help you identify potential benefits that might be able to be negotiated.
  • Know you’re more successful when you negotiate “in person.” It might be tempting to email—conversations about compensation and money are always awkward. However, negotiating salary over the phone is more likely to be successful because you get the opportunity to have a real-time conversation and ask clarifying questions instead of going back and forth. Be prepared with these conversation examples

We know it’s a lot—and we’re here for you every step of the way

The military-to-civilian transition is a huge deal—there are a lot of moving parts, and the job search is just one piece of a larger puzzle. 

It’s also the part we know the best, and to thank you for all you’ve done to serve our country and protect the freedoms we enjoy, we want to do everything we can to support you in this transition and make it as seamless as possible for you.

Again, we’re rooting for you through every step of your pivot, and we’d love to hear from you. If we’re missing any tools that helped support you during your own time as a transitioning veteran—the job boards you followed, the advice you were given, or the tips you may not have considered—we’d love to add them with your permission. Reach out to us here.

We're excited to continue to champion your success as you embark on this next chapter of civilian life.

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Melissa Ripp

Mel Ripp is a freelance writer and communications strategist who loves sharing new perspectives on career change, employee and candidate experience, and company culture. When she’s not working, she’s most likely buying another houseplant, rearranging her record collection for the millionth time, or planning her next travel adventure.

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